Master Yoda and the Buddha
What happens if you don't learn compassion?
June 16, 2013 - 11:00 am
“Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
Walter says this is stated as a self-evident fact, with no rational basis (Dude, it’s a movie) but it struck me because I remember hearing it in the movie and thinking “Heh, Lucas has been reading Dhammapada.”
Okay, PJM’s format doesn’t lend itself to sidebars, so I’m going to slip in a sidebar right here. The Dhammapada — which can be translated “The Path of Natural Law” — is sometimes known to Westerners as “the Buddhist Bible”. It’s really more like Bartlett’s Quotations from the Sutras, a compilation of things the Buddha is reputed to have said. They often sound kinda profound, and usually don’t quite make sense, which adds to their Mystical Import.
So, anyway, I thought “heh, Lucas has been reading Dhammapada” because that’s recognizably a restatement of the first of the Four Noble Truths. For those of you following along at home, the Four Noble Truths are usually stated as:
- Suffering exists.
- Suffering arises from attachment (or “craving” or “yearning.”)
- The cure for suffering is to end attachment.
- There are skillful means by which one can learn to give up attachment.
When we look a little more deeply, you find that attachment, or yearning, happens when we are confronted by the fact that all the “things” we care about are transitory, passing epiphenomena that arise by cause and effect (karma and vipaka), and eventually die and disappear. So we anticipate the loss, which leads to fear, and hate, and anger, and all the negative emotions. In Lucas’ universe, this leads to the Dark Side of the Force, which really can be summed up throughout the movies as the attempt to use the Force to compel people, and things, and really the Universe itself to yield to our will. After all, what Anakin is offered is the esoteric power to keep Amidala alive when his Force-heightened senses tell him she’s going to die. Yoda tries to warn him that everyone will eventually die, and that fighting this is one of the attachments that lead to the Dark Side, but Anakin doesn’t listen.
Of course, if he did, it would have ended the whole series, but that’s fiction for you.
Building on this, though, Walter asks a question most people ask as beginning Buddhists: isn’t wanting to do good and avoid evil an attachment? Wouldn’t a really unattached person have no moral restraints at all?